On the up · 20 January 2016

NIX&KIX: Spicing up soft drinks, one independent café at a time

Julia Kessler and Kerstin Robinson, founders of NIX&KIX

Sick of having nothing to satisfy them when they didn’t want alcohol in a bar, the founders of drinks brand NIX&KIX experimented with chilli and found a solution to the dilemma.

In just 12 months they’ve gone from producing drinks in their kitchen to selling thousands of units a month. Business Advice spoke to them to find out how they’d achieved this.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

We are Julia Kessler and Kerstin Robinson, founders of NIX&KIX. We make grown-up soft drinks with a cayenne pepper kick.

(2) How long have you been around for?

We both quit our corporate jobs about a year ago, and we came up with the current drinks range in September, after a lot of experimenting with flavours. We’ve now got three flavours: Rich Mango & Zingy Ginger, Cool Cucumber & Fresh Mint and Succulent Peach & Smooth Vanilla. They’re all very different drinks – bold, refreshing, and something you won’t get bored of.

(3) How do you make money?

We sell the drinks to coffee shops, delis, bars and restaurants – any business that’s looking to stock something a bit different. Some of our stockists are small chains with up to ten stores, but most are independents, and we’re adding more all the time. We’ve deliberately targeted places more interesting than your average supermarket – they’re much more open to the product.

(4) What makes your company different and why should people take notice?

Chilli gives you a great endorphin high, similar to that which you get after a workout.  You think: “wow, I want more of this.” That can make our drinks a great alternative to alcohol. There are loads of health benefits from it too. But the best thing about the drinks is the way you first taste the great flavour and then get the cayenne kick.

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

I think money was key. We secured funding through the government’s Start Up Loans scheme which was invaluable. But having a vision was also really important. There have been lots of ups and downs and knowing what we’re aiming for has got us through them. It’s helped that there are two of us as well. When you’re having a bad day, usually the other person is having a better one, which helps a lot.


(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

We’ve won a couple of awards which we’re quite proud of. In November we won “Best New Beverage Concept” at the World Beverage Innovation Awards in Germany, which was really exciting.

It has also felt like a huge achievement that people have wanted to work for us. We’ve taken a couple of employees on to do sales and marketing, but there have also been people speculatively contacting us wanting to work for us which felt like a big achievement.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

There have been a few, mainly on the production side. We use small batch production to make the drinks, making a couple of thousand at a time, and there have been lots of small things that have gone wrong. Once we went into production then realised that one of the most important ingredients was missing.

We’ve had to accept that if you want to have high quality ingredients in your product they have to come from special places, and that it takes time to source them. You can’t cut corners, and you have to be patient. Moving to a bigger manufacturer, which we’re doing soon, will be helpful.

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

Producing a wider range of products. We’re keen to expand into other food and drink areas, because there are so many things that could benefit from a spicy kick!

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

The most important thing is talk to people who have been there and done it. Learning from other businesses helped us make fewer mistakes – and it’s also good to be reminded that however bad your day, it will pass.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

There are so many people out there who are setting great examples. We look to a lot of businesses in food for inspiration. Brew Dog is a brand we particularly admire. They’ve built up a really strong brand and it’s great to see what they’re achieving.

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Hannah Wilkinson is a reporter for Business Advice. She studied economics and management at Oxford University and prior to joining Business Advice wrote for Kensington and Chelsea Today about business and economics – as well as running a tutoring company.

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